Wide Open Spaces

I’m fresh off Spring Break and back to school after a good week relaxing back at home in Texas. Having lived in Texas from 4th grade, I think I’m pretty familiar with the Texan lifestyle. In some ways, Texas became my characterization of the US as a whole. Although I figured that the rest of the country didn’t drive as many SUVs and pickup trucks or have as good Mexican food, there are some parts of Texas that I just didn’t realize weren’t normal until I moved away.

First, apparently most people didn’t face the same discipline in school. Here are a few things that I’ve learned from college friends about how other schools work:

  • they WERE allowed to leave campus for lunch
  • they did NOT have a pay a fine to get back cell phones that were visible at any point during the day
  • they were NOT subject to random drug tests
  • they WERE allowed to have facial hair
  • they were NOT patted down at graduation to make sure that no unapproved items were brought in

Second is the one that’s only become apparent to me very recently: Texas has way too much space. Everything has a parking lot. Every mall has a huge parking lot. Gas stations on every corner, and I have never had to parallel park. Anywhere. I’m positive because I’m pretty sure I can’t parallel park.

That was a big shock for me when I went to Boston a few weeks ago. At first, things seem the same. Pull out of the driveway, get on the road, go somewhere, park, get out, do your thing, go back. The first thing that seemed a little strange were the tunnels. When I asked about them, it was pointed out that there were real buildings and roads on top, and it wasn’t just a convenience. And we didn’t pull into parking lots; we either parked on the street, or parked along the street and went along until we found what we were looking for.

It made me think about how inefficient the sprawl design of Texas is. Sure, we in Texas complain about the heat, but to be honest, I’ve had to deal with the heat more here in the Bay Area than in Texas. In most cases, we really don’t go outside in Houston. When we leave home, we hop in an air conditioned car, drive 15 minutes to another air conditioned location, and rush in. A very car-oriented society is convenient in that sense as no one wants to stand out in the sun waiting for a bus.

The car-dependency, however, seems to be a huge liability. I can’t imagine not having a car in Houston. As a student here in the Bay Area, I can travel far and wide on a variety of trains, subways, and buses because the area is built to handle it. Most of the time, though, I don’t need to travel far because everything is close. I can even feel smug about having a smaller carbon footprint for all of it. That, however, would never work in Texas. Things are far and decentralized. I don’t even know where I would go from my home to get to public transit. Thank goodness for cars.

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